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Irish Potato Famine: Case Study

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Ryan Townsend

on 26 September 2013

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Transcript of Irish Potato Famine: Case Study

Irish Potato Famine: Case Study
Impact on Literature
Weary men, what reap ye? "Golden corn for the Stranger."

What sow ye? "Human corpses that await for the Avenger."

Fainting forms, all hunger-stricken, what see you in the offing?

"Stately ships to bear our food away amid the stranger's scoffing."

There's a proud array of soldiers what do they round your door?

"They guard our masters' granaries from the thin hands of the poor."

Pale mothers, wherefore weeping? "Would to God that we were dead"

"Our children swoon before us, and we cannot give them bread!"
Skibbereen by James Mahony
Nineteenth Century Ireland
Beginning in the 1800s...
One-third of Ireland's population relied solely on the potato as a staple crop for food and income.

Multiple crop failures had plagued the first half of nineteenth century Ireland, causing the country to stockpile potatoes.

1845: There was little alarm when early crop yields suggested an inexplicable rot that destroyed potatoes below ground.

Panic: By winter, the rot had even blackened and spoiled potatoes in storage pits.
Rotten Potato
This past May, international scientists identified the unique, crop-destroying pathogen: HERB-1. It originated in Mexico during the Spanish conquest of the Inca Empire.
Britain's Ambivalence
Despite similar crop failures reported in the US and Europe, the British government ignored the ramifications of the possibility that the disease would make its way to Ireland.

The government refused to prohibit the export of grain from Ireland, despite public pleas and scarce food in the country.

Eventually, Britain established soup kitchens to feed the poor, but dismantled the program just six months after their implementation.

While the British government sponsored a vast, but short-lived, public works program, it paid such low wages that citizens were unable to afford greatly inflated food prices.

Essentially, the British government placed too much focus on drilling sentiments of self-reliance and exertion amongst the Irish poor.

The Irish took extra steps to ensure that the crop of 1846-1847 would be salvaged.

Black '47: Potato disease destroyed 75% of the crop throughout the countryside.

During that year, over one million citizens became destitute.
The Great Famine
'Famine Fatigue'
Ethnic prejudices prompted British ministers to dehumanize the Catholic Irish and tout the famine as God's way of rooting out moral and social evils

British landowners with vested Irish interests stifled government relief plans

Permeating belief that the Potato Famine was an opportunity to reform Irish agriculture. By clearing away surplus population, a smaller and more prosperous set of farmers could be established.
Extinguished public empathy,
which might have sustained political will.
Mass Exodus and Death

Between 1846 and 1850, the country's population decreased by two million people.
One million died from starvation and disease
One million immigrated to America, England, Canada, and Australia

Over 230,000 Irish citizens came to the United States in the 1840s

75% of all immigrants landed in New York
36,000 Irish immigrants came to Boston in 1847
By 1850, the Irish made up 43% of the foreign-born population
First stanza of 'The Famine Years' by Jane Wilde
Irreversible population decline, catalyzed by continued emigration to the United States after The Great Famine.

Shift from an agricultural to an industrial base economy

In 1949, seven hundred years of British rule in Ireland was ended as the Republic of Ireland was finally proclaimed and all allegiance to the British Crown abolished.
Ireland Today
Full transcript